FOH EXCLUSIVE: 5 QUESTIONS WITH ALAN PARSONS

Legendary sound engineer Alan Parsons

By Ryan Meehan

Alan Parsons landed a job at the famous Abbey Road Studios at the age of 19, and from that point forward it became clear that the world of sound recording was to dominate his career.  He was fortunate enough to work as assistant engineer on the last two albums by The Beatles and after he qualified as a fully-fledged recording engineer, he went on to work with Paul McCartney and The Hollies among many others. But it was his contribution as engineer on Pink Floyd’s classic “Dark Side of The Moon” that really got him world attention. In 1975 he met Eric Woolfson, who not only became his manager, but joined forces with Alan as a songwriting and performing partner for what became known as The Alan Parsons Project. The APP’s debut album, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe paved the way for a signing to Clive Davis’ newly launched Arista label and a string of hit albums, namely I Robot (1977), Pyramid (1978), The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980), Eye in the Sky (1982), Ammonia Avenue (1984), Vulture Culture (1985), Stereotomy (1986) and Gaudi (1987). A brief venture into musical theatre resulted in Freudiana in 1990.The show ran for over a year in the historic Theater An Der Wien in Vienna. Eric and Alan then went separate ways. Eric devoted his career to the musical theatre while Parsons felt the need to bring his music to the live concert stage and to continue to record ambitious symphonic rock music.

Since the beginning of 2012, as well as performing live shows, Alan has been busy in the studio doing vocals for German Electronica outfit, Lichtmond, on a soon-to-be released song and video called Precious Life. Another vocal performance with YES stars Billy Sherwood and Chris Squire on a song called The Technical Divide has been released on Cleopatra Records under the title “The Prog Collective”. Another collaboration has been with Mexican superstar ALEKS SYNTEK. Alan and Aleks have written a song called The Direction Of Time and have shared the lead vocal duties which are in both English and Spanish – release is expected in the fall.  Alan has received a large number of awards including eleven Grammy nominations, The Les Paul Award in 1995 and more recently, The Diva Hall Of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award in Munich, Germany in June 2012. He is in demand as public speaker and was keynote speaker at the 1998 Audio Engineering Society Convention in San Francisco and more recently was the opening speaker at the TEDx Conejo conference in California in April 2012. Alan lives on an organic avocado ranch in Santa Barbara, California with his wife Lisa and her two daughters, Tabitha and Brittni, three dogs, several cats, chickens, and an 18-hand Clydesdale called Dante.  It goes without saying that we are beyond extremely honored to have Alan as our guest this week in 5 Questions. 

FOH:  How did you end up working at Abbey Road at just eighteen years of age?  Did you experience a lot of anxiety during your first few sessions?  
 
AP: I had been working for EMI since I left school at the age of 16. I was employed in two departments connected with EMI’s studios on Abbey Road. One of them was “Tape Records”, a tape duplication facility manufacturing EMI’s commercial product for release on reel to reel tapes. Soon after I left it was replaced by a cassette manufacturing plant. I simply applied for a job at Abbey Road in 1969 by writing to the studio manager. My experience with EMI tape machines was an advantage in my interview.

I was put onto sessions as a tape op or “button pusher” as they were called after only 2 weeks or so of training. Yes it was the cause of much anxiety. Particularly when I was hired to work with the Beatles at their own studio when I walked into the Apple control room to find all 4 Beatles, George Martin and Glyn Johns in the room and having to introduce myself.

FOH:  When I first listened to “Ammonia Avenue” all the way through, the one thing that really stuck out to me was the fact that since you had more than one lead singer there was a great deal of vocal variety happening.  Is the decision to have more than one option there more of a producer-based choice than a band-based one?  And does it surprise you that more producers don’t do that?  

AP:  Having the vocal variety that a number of singers gave us was a huge asset. Regular performing bands are usually stuck with one singer who has to be heard on every track of an album. I see the multiple choice of vocalists as an APP trademark. Producers don’t normally have the choice – they are stuck with the talent of the act they are working with. A solo artist can hardly hire a guest singer unless it’s for a duet.
 
FOH:  If for some reason your website allowed you only one sentence to describe your very large and diverse body of work, what would it be?  
 
AP: If you enjoy well-written, well-produced, well-engineered and well-performed music with lots of dynamics this is the music for you.
 
FOH:  You were asked to do production work on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, but declined.  Was there any reason you decided not to do that other than wanting to get APP off the ground?
 
AP: Pink Floyd offered me a full-time job as their studio and live engineer at an attractive salary. I declined because I had started to get into production with British artists such as Pilot, John Miles and Steve Harley and was already successful. I never would have got rich or got any real recognition with the Floyd as their engineer. If they had offered me a royalty-based deal that might have changed everything – but they didn’t – and the recently released mixes on the box set of Dark Side haven’t earned me a penny more than the 35 pounds a week EMI paid me. Bitter? Absolutely.
 
FOH:  Do you ever see newer studio technology and wonder how having access to such technological advances could have changed the way you approached making all of the albums over the course of your career?   

AP: I am always amazed that people who watch me at work are open-mouthed because I don’t reach for Pro Tools plugin effects every second of every session. The principal advantages of hard disc recording are the editing capabilities. I’m not a computer whiz so I always work with one as my assistant. My skills are in mic technique, sound balance, instrumentation, arrangement and getting the best results out of performers. That has not changed through changes in technology.
 
FOH:  What projects are you currently working on at the moment and what do the next twelve months hold for Alan Parsons?  

AP:  I have just finished an album with the internet sensation virtuoso of the ukulele, Jake Shimabukoro. Next month I am engineering an album with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. In October I’m producing an album with a new band from the UK called Electric Litany. I continue to promote my video series The Art And Science Of Sound Recording via “masterclasses” at colleges and recording studios. I continue to play live and will be performing in South America, Europe and South East Asia next year.

Alan’s official website:  http://www.alanparsonsmusic.com

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content. 

Meehan

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